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Pvt William Augustus (Gus) Dilts
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Birth: Aug. 25, 1848
Death: Mar. 4, 1943

pvt e 38th nj inf last civil war veteran in hunterdon county. Just this Christmas Eve morning of 1942, nearby farmer Peter Stasyshyn had brought Gus some firewood and found him in bed with no evidence that he had had heat in the house or had eaten in two days. Stasyshyn had called the state police, who were well aware of Gus and also would look in on him. Clinton resident Bastedo was the first to respond and had found him in bed scarcely able to talk from exhaustion due to cold and hunger. His feet were frozen and Bastedo knew enough to suspect gangrene. It was obvious that immediate medical assistance was needed. The ambulance took Gus to the State Veterans' home in Menlo Park where he was transferred for treatment to a hospital in Brooklyn. Doctors there found that gangrene had indeed set in and there was no option but to amputate one of his feet. He was then brought back closer to home, to the Lyons V.A. hospital, for recuperation. He hung on for a while but whether in this institutional setting of Lyons, it was his spirit or physical health, which failed the most, he breathed his last on 4 March 1943 in the midst of still another of his country's great wars.

William Augustus Dilts said he had been born at Dawestown south of Lebanon on 25 August 1848 [his death certificate would say 1849 at Stockton], the son of Mr. John Watson and Eleanor Ann Hendershot Dilts. Farming was his life. Father John W. had served the nine-month term of the local 30th N.J. Infantry. Once his dad was mustered out and home, Gus decided that he, too, wanted to see the elephant, as the expression went those days. He enlisted under the name of Augustus Dilts along with other locals in Company E of the 38th N.J. Infantry as that regiment formed in Trenton in September of 1864. Enlistment papers describe Gus as 17 years of age, brown eyes and hair with a fair complexion and standing 5 feet 6 inches tall. The 38th was a late war regiment and served most of its time in garrison duty on the James River of Virginia. It did take part in operations on the periphery of Petersburg in the last weeks of the war but was never in pitched combat and had no battle deaths. Eleven men did die of various diseases, one of them unluckily, from chronic diarrhea after his release from a rebel prison in Richmond. Gus remembered minor skirmishes but said his only injury was a broken collarbone and he could not remember how that had happened.

Discharged in June of 1865, Gus came back home to settle into farming. He married Emma Pitt of the Neshanic area and before she died in 1879, she bore him two children, a boy and a girl. In later life Gus would lose track of them and wouldn't know if they were dead or alive. He remarried in 1881 in New Germantown (Oldwick), to Miss Josephine Honness. She was about ten years his junior and had been born at Karrsville just north of Washington. The couple set up housekeeping at Whitehouse, moved on to Changewater, relocated again to Imlaytown near Hampton before finally settling down in 1888 in the area of Union Township known as the "Union," which is now covered by Spruce Run Reservoir. At least as early as 1913 they began work for the Exton family in that area and moved into the tenant house that would become their last and to which they were eventually given a life right by the Extons.

They lived simply. Their life was unadorned, the farm work was hard, and the diversions few. Frustrations were there for sure. A glance at the face of Josephine tells more than words. One of Gus' diversions, a liking for beer, got him in trouble according to the front page of the 27 August issue of the Hunterdon County Democrat.

The two must have worked it out somehow. Possibly for the lack of a practical alternative for survival, a truce of sorts was reached as the couple was still together in 1938 to pose for that newspaper picture on the previous page. The paper said they kept a few chickens, several cats, and two dogs, "Prince" and "Nina." One year later Josephine fell and fractured a hip. Complications from that injury (probably pneumonia, as was quite common in those days) brought about her death on 21 March 1939 in Somerville's Somerset Hospital.


Charged with slapping his wife, Josephine, 65 years of age, William A. Dilts, 88, one of Hunterdon County's few surviving veterans of the Civil War, is in custody of County Detective William Rittenhouse for six months. Dilts was arraigned last week before Justice of the Peace Lester W. Oliver at Clinton, on a charge of being a disorderly person. He was paroled in custody of the county detective. There were different stories about what happened. Mrs. Dilts said she was displeased because her husband had been out drinking beer. On the other hand, Dilts said his wife "was nagging him." According to Dilts, "a punch or an uppercut is against the law, but a good back hand stroke is perfectly legal."

Gus was now alone, supported by little else except his army pension of $50 per month. He had friends that stopped in now and then to take him on errands. He still liked his drink.

Area resident Douglas Martin remembers that as a child driving by the house with his father, Van Syckle Martin, his father would mention that he often picked up Gus to take him to vote. There were times he had to sober Gus up before he could be presented at the polls.

When death came at Lyons Hospital his remains were brought home to Hunterdon. Gus had long been a proud central figure of the Memorial Day parades of High Bridge. Now townsmen of the Herbert Cawley Post of the American Legion responded with an honor guard and military funeral as he was laid to rest beside Josephine in the Evergreen Cemetery of Clinton. Her plot was marked with a gravestone but there was no money and now no family to see to the erection of one for Gus. It somehow just never happened. Whether it was torn down soon after as was the rumor, or whether it today lies under the waters of Spruce Run reservoir, their little cottage is no longer there. The only traces of his austere life are the various yellowed newspaper articles and the slight depression left by the settling of the ground where he was buried. Despite his being the last Civil War Vet in Hunterdon to be drawing his military pension, Gus is still pretty much forgotten. He deserves better, at least a headstone.

John W. Kuhl, August 2002  
Family links: 
  Josephine Honness Dilts (1858 - 1939)*
*Calculated relationship
Evergreen Cemetery
Hunterdon County
New Jersey, USA
Created by: Gregory Speciale
Record added: Oct 28, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 16358872
Pvt William Augustus (Gus) Dilts
Added by: Mindy
Pvt William Augustus (Gus) Dilts
Added by: Mindy
Pvt William Augustus (Gus) Dilts
Added by: Mindy
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 Added: Jan. 3, 2011

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